Who Partakes in Political Violence?


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Terrorism is a tactic adopted by particular groups for a political objective. The individuals that partake in this violence often exhibit common characteristics. One of these characteristics is impoverishment (Lee 2011). In parts of the world where state capacity to serve the public is low, terrorist group participation is more likely. In other words, these individuals come from poor backgrounds. But contrarily, individuals from higher economic classes, also tend to be involved. This suggests that the middle class is least likely to join in, while the lower middle and upper class are more vulnerable (Kavanagh 2011).

On the other hand, terrorism has a different motive. In this case, terrorism is analyzed from the individual perspective, versus the structural perspective. Concepts like emotion and humiliation are considered here to be powerful motivators towards violence. The underlying belief is that, particularly in the Islamic world, a sense of humiliation drives individuals to terror. This humiliation stems from cultural factors such as shame-based traditions as much as it does from a history of subordination to outsiders such as Europe and America, through arrangements like Sykes-Picot. Humiliation can be exacerbated by internal inequalities within nation-states (Fattah & Fierke 2009). Perhaps a less romanticized perspective argues that existential factors like desire and glory motivate individuals among other factors that are political to engage in terrorism (Cottee et al 2011).

The most compelling argument seems to focus on the political orientation of terrorism through the individual lens. This is because it considers the cultural dimension of politics which drives individuals to retaliation or aggression. Social factors like poverty and authoritarianism cannot be separated from the external powers at play, and their influence historically and in today’s world on regions where terrorism is most prevalent. Equally, we cannot ignore the complicity of national governments in worsening conditions and enabling terrorism.

 

Cottee, Simon and Keith Hayward. 2011. “Terrorist (E)motives: The Existential Attractions of Terrorism.” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 34: 963-986

Fattah, Khaled and Fierke, K.M. 2009. “A Clash of Emotions: The Politics of Humiliation and Political Violence in The Middle East.” European Journal of International Relations 15(1): 67-93

Kavanagh, J. (2011). Selection, Availability, and Opportunity: The Conditional Effect of Poverty on Terrorist Group Participation. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 55(1), 106-132.

Lee, A. (2011). Who Becomes a Terrorist? Poverty, Education, and the Origins of Political Violence . World Politics , 203-245.

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The Struggle for Sovereignty in the Middle East


 

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There are numbers floating around regarding the relatively low amount of terrorist incidents committed by Islamic radicals.

Still, two points can be brought up.

Instability is uniquely inherent to the Middle East; and anti-Americanism is common in the Islamic World.

Perhaps these two characteristics of the Islamic World coupled with the increase in radicalized Islamic terrorist incidents (after 2003) could be explained as the products of humiliation .

Fanaticism is denounced by most Muslims.

But even ordinary Muslims, like for example in Iran, feel a sense of betrayal from the US with regards to sovereignty that is seen as the cause of extremism in the first place.

Since Islamic terrorism didn’t surge until after the War in Iraq, their claims seem to exhibit some validity .

The implication here is that, more respect for sovereignty might reduce the impetus for radicalization, and thus terror.

Is Saudi Arabia Next?


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The Gulf countries, to some extent, initiated quick reforms to avoid the domino effect of the Arab Spring.

Reminiscent of the Age of Metternich in Europe, when serious efforts to revolutionize the continent were being suppressed.

Revolution often has little idea of the future, but this weakness is exploited by existing orders to maintain the “status quo”. The divisions between revolutionaries, usually ideologically, lead to fragmentation. Sometimes, revolutions become themselves suppressive, as with far left or far right ideologies in Europe, the Far East and Latin America.

Ironically, the Arab Spring affected only the nations with little economic influence in the region. If the Arab World has a list of grievances, it would be safe to assume that economic misery is atop the list, along with cultural and political factors. Involvement by foreign countries further complicates the dynamic.

How could the Arab Spring miss the Gulf countries? Why did it not sweep Lebanon? Why were the results overturned quickly in Egypt?

All of these are important questions. Many of the leaders that were overthrown in the Arab World over the last two decades, including Saddam, Gaddafi, Mubarak and Morsi deserved their fate, perhaps. But two forces plague the Middle East – robust capitalism in the Gulf and authoritarianism and sectarianism in the Levant and North Africa. This dynamic of persistent monarchism and militarized statism have together, produced disaster. But how can such polarized forces, like the two aforementioned, which are ideologically diametrically opposed, share the feature of tyranny? This forces analysis to focus on external factors.

The most crucial piece of the Arab political puzzle is the Gulf region, because economically, it preserves the economic capacity necessary for sustaining and developing the entire Middle East. Patronage and nepotism have disenfranchised the average person from the political and thus, economic processes. Religious and family bonds infiltrate policy, and result in corruption and economic misery.

The Gulf is aptly supported by America. Israel too.

Is it possible that both economic, social and political development are lagging then not only as a result of Arab tyranny, but the American involvement which secures it?

Placing the blame on external forces is an easy and common trend, particularly in the Middle East where a factual history of foreign conspiracies confirmed societal paranoias towards the US and Europe.

Both the conflicts in Iraq and Syria were US-led initiatives, really. But genuine reform in the Middle East cannot take place without reform in the crux of the puzzle – the Gulf. If violent insurgencies persist, will they eventually realize their greatest obstacle is not the enemy of the US, Assad and Iran, but rather, the enemy of the Arab World, which is the greediness which permeates the Gulf?